Estranged daughter joins veteran Henry's send-off

Henry Allingham might not have cared much for all the pomp and ceremony at his funeral, the dignitaries and the fulsome tributes that flowed to one of the last survivors of the First World War. This, after all, was the man who when asked how he would like to be remembered replied that he did not want to be remembered at all. "I want to be forgotten. Remember the others."

He might, though, have been pleased to see the frail, elderly woman in black sitting in the front of the church for today's service. She drew no attention to herself, nor gave great outward show of mourning, but she would have known that the eyes of nearly everyone in the 14th century Brighton church would have been upon her: for she was Betty Hankin, the daughter who had not spoken to Henry for nearly 40 years. So long had their estrangement been that Henry used to say he thought she was dead.

With death came a rapprochement of sorts, not soon enough for a reunion between the living, but enough for 89-year-old Mrs Hankin to make the journey from her home in Gloucestershire to pay her last respects to the father who become a national symbol of the sacrifice of a generation.

She did not come alone. With her were several members of her family who, until last week, had no idea that they had a forebear who was held in such regard. The exact cause of the rift remains unclear - and perhaps the family has done nothing to deserve the private sadness of a family feud being made public - but Mr Allingham's lost family made up for the wasted years by turning out in force, right down to his 10-month-old great-great-grandson, Tyler Hankin.

Henry Allingham was, at the age of 113, the world's oldest man when he died on July 18 and, with Harry Patch, one of Britain's last two survivors from the Great War. Harry Patch died exactly week later, making Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Australia, the last living British veteran of the war.

His funeral was held with full military honours. The Duchess of Gloucester was there, in her capacity as president of the World War One Veterans Association, along with senior figures from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and the Veterans Minister Kevan Jones. On a day of singular honours for a singular man, his coffin - draped with the Union flag and covered with red roses - was, uniquely, carried by pallbearers from both the navy and the RAF. Behind them, from the American side of the family - his other daughter Jean, now dead, was a GI bride - his great-grandsons Brent and Michael Gray, both petty officers in the US Navy, carried his medals and decorations into church.

At the end of the service the bells of St Nicholas's tolled 113 times, once for each year of his life, and five replica World War One planes - Mr Allingham was the last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service, and a founder member of the Royal Air Force - performed a flypast.

There was, however, more to Henry Allingham than longevity and luck, and the crowd that gathered by the church - a thousand or more, from children to old men festooned with medals - to watch the service on the screen outside was testament to the way Mr Allingham spoke to all generations.

His friend Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns said that by talking about the war Mr Allingham performed an invaluable service. "He blew the dust off the history books for us. He breathed life into our heritage and reminded us of those who had gone before and those who had made the ultimate sacrifice."

He was also, as another friend, Air-Vice Marshal Peter Dye, told the congregation, a reminder that old age need not be seen as a disability. "I never knew someone with such an appetite for life," he said. "I watched Henry at the age of 110 conga round a French dance floor in his wheelchair. When his slipper flew off into the corner I was struck by how much he simply enjoyed living."

He also had a mischievous side - "and, I'm told by the ladies, a certain charm." Once, during a visit to the House of Lords, he said, "Black Rod was somewhat surprised when Henry, having struck up a warm conversation with his secretary, asked for her phone number."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever